Since first embarking on her effort to open Beacon Hill Books in the fall of 2019, Melissa Fetter has weathered the fallout from COVID, coupled with a lot of bureaucratic red tape, but now, after a 16-month process, she has finally secured a construction permit to bring her the eagerly awaited general-interest bookstore and café to Charles Street.
“Twenty-six businesses have closed on Charles Street since I started this process, but I haven’t given up,” said Fetter, who, pre-pandemic, had planned on opening the business in the fall of 2020, but is now looking at the winter of 2022 instead.
Beacon Hill Books will occupy the four-story building at 71 Charles St. that was once home to the Hungry I restaurant. The first three levels will become retail space with floor-to-ceiling bookcases, and adult titles on the first two levels and a third floor devoted exclusively to children’s books. “We’ re excited about the plans we’re developing for the children’s floor,” Fetter said. The former Hungry I space would also be converted into a garden-level café.
A gut renovation of the building, which dates back to the 1850s, “from the bare studs outward,” is now underway, said Fetter, and an elevator is being installed as part of the transformation. The interiors will be designed by Cathy Kincaid Interiors in partnership with the American fabric and wall-covering company, Sister Parish Design, which has historic ties to Boston and New England.
“In contrast to many other bookstores we’re all familiar with, the atmosphere and aesthetic of the space will be emphasized,” said Fetter, who added that chairs and couches would be placed throughout the retail area to encourage patrons to take their time and enjoy the experience of shopping at Beacon Hill Books.
“Most bookstores are just about the books,” she added. “This is about the books, of course, because it’s a bookstore, but it’s also about the way it’s being delivered.”
Beacon Hill Books has also made two initial hires – Irene MacDonald, a lawyer by profession with a background in publishing to oversee bookstore and cafe operations; and Horatio Greenough, a former librarian from London who will help manage the bookstore.
Of the new opportunity, McDonald said, “Having lived in Beacon Hill as a law school student, I’m thrilled to return to the neighborhood to help create an independent bookstore that will serve the community for many years to come.”
Negotiations are also now underway with an award-winning local chef for the café, said Fetter, who would introduce a new menu for breakfast, lunch, afternoon tea and light suppers.
Additionally, Beacon Hill Books is now beginning to develop its programming calendar, which Fetter describes as “an ambitious schedule of guest authors and experts in a wide range of topics of interest to our clients (adults and children alike).”
“We’re really looking to our neighbors and [future] clientele to help us shape our program and curate our collection of books,” Fetter said. “It’s a known fact that independent bookstores succeed in neighborhoods that are invested in their success…and the only way for independent bookstores to survive is if neighbors really want them to be there and go out of their way to support them.”
But in the end, Fetter has faith that the neighborhood will rally behind Beacon Hill Books and choose to patronize a local independent bookstore in their own neighborhood over big online booksellers like Amazon.
“We want to make the experience of being in the store so compelling that one chooses to purchase their books at Beacon Hill Books rather than ordering them online,” Fetter said.
Mellissa Fetter asks anyone with questions or suggestions for Beacon Hill Books to email them to her at [email protected] and follow the business on Twitter @beaconhillbookstore.